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John Murtha: An Eagle Amid the Turkeys

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Message Susan Lenfestey
Having just watched both houses of congress pass their reverse-Robin Hood budget bills while preserving their home-state funding projects, I started to think that pork was more in season than turkey this Thanksgiving.

But then came the gobble-fest over Congressman John Murtha's call to withdraw our troops from Iraq in a responsible and timely way, and turkeys once again ruled the day.

I'm not talking about those breast-heavy birds, locked up in gulags with code names like Butterball and Jennie-O. I'm talking about the ones who will still be with us long after old gobbler's bones are boiled to broth, the ones in Washington with their waddles flowing over their neckties, denouncing the handful of Democrats who refuse to be chickens any longer. Talk about a pecking order.

The usually avuncular Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, chastised Congressman Murtha saying, "Americans don't want platitudes of moral indignity," which seems a little like Ronald MacDonald saying America's kids don't want a diet of burgers and fries as he hands them a Big Mac.

The newest member of Congress, Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, known as "Mean Jean" back in Cincinnati, proved you don't need . . . well, manhood, to peck with the big toms by suggesting that the much-decorated combat veteran Murtha was a coward. When the boos and catcalls ruffled her feathers, Mean Jean retreated to her perch and later retracted her comments.

The biggest turkey, make that a five-deferment capon, was Dick Cheney, emerging from the bunker in a plumped-up tuxedo, which managed to give him an uncanny resemblance to Batman's old nemesis, the Penguin. Accusing those politicians who once supported the war but now criticize its conduct of losing their memory, he snarled, "The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out."

No, the saddest part is that they're being maimed and killed, day in and day out, due to the Penguin's own pernicious falsehoods that put them in harm's way.

President Bush, meanwhile, still a bantam but a little less cocky, weighed in from China with his one-note message of stay the course. With bird flu on our doorstep, did anyone tell him why it's called Asian bird flu?

But Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, emerged closer to that crazy Cajun concoction, the turducken -- a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey - than any of his peers. With only 627,000 residents, Alaska receives more federal dollars--$12,279 per person in 2003 - than any other state. Senator Stevens, who's primarily responsible for this federal feedbag, is a pork-stuffed turkey who's been brining in the senate for 37 years.

So when Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, balked at the budget bill's appropriation of $442 million for two unnecessary bridges in Alaska, including the now infamous bridge to nowhere (in reality an island with 50 residents) and suggested that the money be used instead to repair Katrina-damaged interstate bridges, Stevens screamed foul and threatened to "resign from this body" if the funds weren't restored.

Did anyone call his bluff? Cluck-cluck, they fell in line and restored all the funding, though dodged the bridge issue by not allocating the highway money to any specific project. We know where the money is going to go, but does anyone know where the fiscally conservative Republicans have gone?

But despite the strutting on both sides of the aisle, when we sit down to our, um, turkey dinner this Thanksgiving there are many things we'll be thankful for. There are the obvious gifts of health and family and yes, living in America, where we are free to disagree with our leaders. Aren't we?

And this year we'll also be grateful for a hulking old veteran named Jack Murtha, a most unlikely eagle who soared above the halls of congress and left the turkeys and chickens scratching in the dust.

Susan Lenfestey is a Minneapolis writer.
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Susan Lenfestey lives and writes in Minneapolis.
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